In The Christian Century article, the writer quotes several sentences from my blog as I offered my opinion regarding the controversial LifeWay decision. What caught my interest was the phrase the writer used in introducing me:
Burleson, a pastor in Enid, Oklahoma, who often needles SBC officials, asked September 24 on his blog . . .
I paused for a moment to ponder the word "needles." A minute later I looked up the definition and found this:
Needle: To torment with persistent insult or ridicule
Someone once opined that perception is personal truth, reality is objective truth, and rare is the occasion when the two actually meet. I do not perceive myself as a needler of Southern Baptist Convention leadership, but I accept that The Christian Century, my Baptist Identity friends, and a handful of SBC leaders see me that way. I perceive myself a supporter of the SBC (I led my church to increase Cooperative Program giving last year), a defender of SBC missionaries, agency employees and administrators (we hired them to do a job, and we should trust them to do it well), and a Southern Baptist for the long haul (I've been a Southern Baptist my entire life, and I willingly continue my affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention).
To Question Stupid SBC Decisions Is Not Needling, It's Needed
My wife and I were rocking along the earlier part of this decade, raising a family, pastoring a church, loving Oklahoma and our Southern Baptist Convention, when we both were awakened to a radical change occurring within the SBC - a change that caught us by surprise.
We discovered missionaries were being fired. At the time we said nothing because, like most Southern Baptists, we believed the issue was a denial of the Bible as the inspired, inerrant Word of God - and by golly, we want Bible believers on our mission field.
Then, when I became a trustee of the International Mission Board, I realized to my horror that the issue in the Southern Baptist Convention was not a battle for a belief in the the inspired, inerrant Word of God. I trust my moderate friends will be patient as I restate what I just wrote in the preceding sentence. Had it been proven to me at the grassroots level of the SBC that the problem with our Convention was a denial by some of the sufficiency, inspiration or inerrancy of God's Word, I would never have second thoughts about my involvement in "The Battle for the Bible." Some may wish to debate with me the propriety of using the word "inerrant" to describe the Bible, but The Chicago Statement on Inerrancy defines the word inerrant for me, and I have absolutely, positively, not one iota of a problem using the Chicago understanding of "inerrancy" as a descriptive adjective of the Bible.
But, I discovered as a trustee of the IMB that inerrancy is no longer the issue in the Southern Baptist Convention; we have a much worse problem we are battling. Frankly, because of the way I have seen some of my fellow Southern Baptists who hold to inerrancy treated in this new millenium by other Southern Baptists who also profess to hold to inerrancy, I now have doubts about the veracity of the claim that the issue in the Southern Baptist Convention was ever a battle for a belief in the inerrant Bible in the first place. Let me illustrate.
The Problem in the SBC Is a Rejection of Conservative Evangelicals Who Disagree With Fundementalist Interpretations of the Sacred Writ.
I have seen an excellent Hebrew professor fired from teaching Hebrew at Southwestern Theological Seminary (Sheri Klouda), forced to sell her own blood to meet expenses, all because of a Fundamentalist interpretation that a woman should not teach men. I have seen an outstanding female supervisor (Wendy Norvelle) at the International Mission Board promoted by Dr. Rankin to be the Vice-President, only to see Rankin's recommendation overturned by Fundamentalist trustee leaders who forced their Fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible that "no woman shall lead a man" upon IMB administration. I have seen IMB trustees force their Fundamentalist interpretation that certain spiritual gifts have ceased, a belief that exceeds the BFM 2000 and in some minds contradicts the inerrant Word of God, and so close the door on otherwise qualified Southern Baptist missionaries from serving on the mission field. I have seen IMB trustee leaders force their Fundamentalist Landmark beliefs on an entire board, and thus remove from the possiblity of missionary service any Southern Baptist church member whose baptism did not take place in a Southern Baptist church. I have seen Fundamentalist trustees fire a missionary couple in Africa because they refused to "cease and desist" from cooperating with another conservative, evangelical missionary couple - who happened to be non-Southern Baptist - in planting a church among the bush tribes of Africa. I have personally been witness to Southern Baptist Fundamentalist leaders spreading vicious rumors against people (other than me) who dared speak out to oppose their views. I have seen Southern Baptists threatened, Southern Baptists excoriated, Southern Baptists fired, Southern Baptists mistreated, Southern Baptists lied about, Southern Baptists dismissed - all because they dared to express an opinion different than the Fundamentalist interpretation of sacred Scripture on tertiary matters that have nothing to do with being Christian or even Southern Baptist. The best way to identify these Baptist Fundamentalists is with the label "Baptist Identity" for truly, the Fundamentalists would rather demand people conform to their interpretation of what it means to be Southern Baptist than to cooperate with people who view things differently than they do. In other words, their "Baptist Identity," as they interpret it, precedes any identification with Christ and His commandment to love one another.
That, my friend, is why I speak out. The people in leadership who are hurting Southern Baptists by their demands for conformity must be removed from Convention leadership. Let me say that again: Those who demand that all Southern Baptists conform to their Fundamentalist views of Baptist Identity must be removed from leadership. Why? The Convention is built on cooperation (i.e. "The Cooperative Program), and demands for conformity disqualify any man who is to lead out in cooperation. I will continue to speak out until the sleeping giant we call the Southern Baptist Convention wakes up and realizes that what began as a "Conservative Resurgence" somewhere along the line became a "Fundamentalist Fury." It's time the fires of Fundamentalism's fury be quenched.
If my writing plays any part in quenching those fires, and if in so doing, the Christian Century writes that I "needle" the SBC leaders who exalt Fundamentalism (Baptist Identity), then so be it.
I plead guilty.
In His Grace,